Marketing In a Pandemic

By Maggie McBride 

The onset of COVID19 has seen unprecedented times. Skyrocketing layoffs, record unemployment, financial insecurity across all sectors and employees- it all adds up to a dark and gloomy picture requiring running leaner than ever before. Wherever you choose to make cuts at your dealership, keep in mind that smart marketing is a must. Your marketing team will keep the dealership top-of-mind to customers as they scroll through their social media feed, demonstrate how your team is accommodating their needs in a time of crisis, and help the business get back on its feet once restrictions have passed. 

Unfortunately, neither auto retailing nor manufacturing has been spared by this impact. In fact, 93% of manufacturing has come to a halt because of COVID19 concerns. Some factories are still in business making other critical supplies, like GM is doing with ventilators or Ford is doing with face masks, but the end result is that showrooms, many of which are shuttered anyway, are suffering.

So how does your dealership cope with the lapse of traffic in the showroom? The good news is that even states with the most stringent COVID19 prevention measures acknowledge the necessity of mechanics and auto repair and maintenance. Now is a great time to focus on the efforts of your service department– disinfecting procedures, social distancing practices, any changes in operating hours, updates about services your team is providing- all this information is good for customers to know before they schedule their appointment. 

It’s also an opportunity to produce new, relevant content that makes your dealership a reliable and trustworthy source of information for your community. Put up a blog post that provides a step-by-step for an oil change (accompanied by a video if possible), because the reality is that even if your shop is open, there are customers who will not want to risk it, but that ‘maintenance required’ dashboard light is still on. Since many people have plenty of down time, a video or blog post about effective ways to clean a car at home may be of use. If your shop has any of these recommended products in stock, you can always take it as an opportunity to drop that information in when it seems natural. Now is not the time to come off as necessarily “salesy,” but offering a product that will help people does not come off that way. Make sure all content is search optimized, as increased down time means increased screen time.

Rather than turning out how-to content exclusively, take this as an opportunity to pepper in some signal boosting: amplifying efforts of area organizations that are doing what they can to combat the recent influx of people who are unemployed or food insecure (or in the case of doctors and certain retail workers they’re overworked), or groups making homemade masks or sanitizers. It’s a way to show that your dealership has your arms and ears open to the community and want to help people in whatever capacity you can. Sometimes all you can do is simply disperse the information at hand (and include a donation link, of course). 

These are all tasks your marketing team can take care of, and the best part is that they’re free. No matter how crazy things get, the internet is open for business. Making an effort to be a valuable member of your community will retain existing customers or even garner new ones, all at no cost aside from regular website maintenance. 

However, as nice as free marketing is, your efforts can’t stop there. Though it makes sense to make a cut to your marketing budget, be more surgical about it. Ask your marketing team to assess your currently-running campaigns and make adjustments based on that. End the ones performing poorly, and adjust the ones performing well to be more relevant to how your business is being conducted currently. Keep in mind that dollars need to be put towards showcasing what your dealership is doing right now to reassure your followers and the greater community. That could be taking out paid social and search ads promoting a discount on some repair and maintenance services, a warranty extension, payment deferrals, or more. Little measures to show that your business is considering people whose income has been reduced will go a long way.

If your team wants to get granular to make sure you’re getting the most of your budget, this Harvard Business Review article from 2009 dispenses good advice about adjusting the segmentation of your customers to accommodate a more emotionally tumultuous time, even though it is an older piece: 

In a recession such segmentations may be less relevant than a psychological segmentation that takes into consideration consumers’ emotional reactions to the economic environment.

It’s been established that normal shopping habits are out the window. That became clear as soon as shoppers began hoarding toilet paper. So why not assess how shoppers are responding to this emotionally, and accommodate that instead?

In a way, by adjusting your content approach to be more assistive and less sales-driven, you are already considering the spike in uncertainty that accompanies a time like this. Adding the extra awareness about what your dealership is doing to help your customers will prove invaluable in the long term, when your customers begin to regain stability. With an extra push, your dealership will come out on the other side of this as a close neighborhood business giving back to the customers who keep the doors open.

Be well. Be safe.